15
Feb
10

Fugitive Visions

I love that adult adoptees are speaking out as never before. They’re finding their voices, relating their experiences, and becoming a vital part of the conservation on international adoption. And I’m thankful because good experiences or bad, I can learn from them. At this point, I have no idea how my son will feel about adoption when he’s older. But these adoptees give a glimpse into their feelings so I have a better understanding of the emotions and thoughts that many adoptees have.

That’s why I was so interested to read, Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee’s Return to Korea by Jane Jeong Trenka. A couple of years ago, I’d read Trenka’s first book, Language of Blood. But that memoir ended before she had returned to live in Korea. Trenka has been outspoken in her criticism of international adoption and currently works with TRACK (Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoptive Community in Korea) to advocate for adoptee rights. This is one author some adoptive parents want to avoid. But honestly I find I learn the most from listening to the stories that are hardest to hear.

And Trenka’s story is, in many ways, hard to hear. As an adoptive parent you don’t want to imagine a future in which your child is no longer speaking to you. (Trenka hasn’t seen or spoken to her American parents in years).

As an adoptive parent, you don’t want to hear how Trenka feels as if she fits nowhere. In culture and attitude she’s American. Yet as an Asian American she’s never felt fully accepted in the US. In biology she’s Korean. Yet unlike Koreans who have grown up in Korean families, she doesn’t speak the same language or know the cultural nuisances of Korea.

We don’t want to imagine a future in which our children struggle. All parents want life to be easy for their children, yet there’s little about adoption and growing up in a multiracial family that is easy.

Fugitive Visions chronicles Trenka’s return to Korea to live. While the first book was about growing up in a predominately white town in Minnesota, this book touches on that as well. It includes Trenka’s reconnection with her older sister (the two were adopted together into the same American family). It discusses her relationships with her biological family and with other adoptees who are living in Korea. Here are some things from this memoir that stood out to me.

After struggling with her relationship with her mother, as an adult Trenka wanted to make peace with her mom. “I told her how it was growing up in that town, how profoundly painful and lonely it was in all that whiteness, and I asked her why she didn’t stand up for me and she said, ‘So what, all kids are mean, everyone gets teased, if they didn’t tease you for being Korean they would have teased you for something else like being fat, so why do you expect special treatment.’ At that moment I knew that my white mother doesn’t see me…doesn’t see how other people see me…chooses to see me without my body…because she can make that choice…she can choose to live in her imagination where I am white too…because I am her daughter…and she does not see that during those eighteen years I lived in her house I was not human… .”

In first-grade, Jane had a book bag that said, “Don’t Bug Me,” which she used to cover her face on the school bus as a defense against bullying. When her mother wanted to get a new bag for second grade, Jane couldn’t explain why she wanted the same bag. Her family had never discussed racial issues or bullying.

“You can’t talk about what you don’t have vocabulary for. That includes not just racial hatred but also racial friendship.” Jane went on to explain how her closest friends in high school were refugees or children of mixed marriages. They connected because their experiences growing up were similar.

And at one point Trenka talks about how she often chastised by Koreans for butchering the language. Yet white adoptive parents who are in Korea to pick up their children are praised for any Korean use speak, no matter how poorly it’s spoken. Trenka’s upbringing more closely resembles those of the American parents, yet the expectations of the Koreans have of her are totally different.

This touched me deeply because I was praised in Korea for what little Korean I could speak. I hate the fact that someday those same people might have a very different reaction to my Korean-born son attempting to speak what should have been his native language.

In many ways, Trenka has had a rough life and the scars of that life run deep. Yet she says many times how much she loves her American parents. It seems she longs to connect with them, but without her parents being able to honestly see her for who she is and what’s she’s experienced, she’s unable to make the connection.

I understand that no parent is perfect, yet every parental generation longs to do better in one area or another than the previous generation. This book made me long to do better; it made me more committed to parent differently than previous generations of adoptive parents. To be open with my son about the loss and sadness of adoption. To try to understand and be emphatic to him if or when he struggles. To become part of the Korean American community, to have diversity surrounding us and have a life that reflects my son. To have him learn the language of his birth and speak it fluently as not having the ability to communicate is one of the biggest barriers adoptees face when returning to their birth countries.

Do I believe that doing that will mean my son won’t struggle? No, I don’t. I understand that even with a different parenting style my son might struggle with his adoption and identity. My goal is to be educated and ready so I can support him if or when that happens.


1 Response to “Fugitive Visions”


  1. 1 Mei-Ling
    February 16, 2010 at 11:02 am

    I loved her memoir Fugitive Visions. I can so relate to the challenge of finally being surrounded by people who look like me… but know that they “think” I’m a native simply based on my appearance and the facade will only last until I open my mouth.


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